Last Saturday morning at Inter Milan's training base at Pinetina, not far from Como, Rafa Benitez, the head coach of the Italian and European champions, found himself having to douse some over-heated and extravagant remarks from Massimo Moratti, his president.
Moratti had been bandying around some sumptuous names in response to queries about future transfer targets.
Moratti had venturedhe would like to sign Lionel Messi. "I wouldn't say 'no'," smiled Benitez. Kaka's name had also been linked to Inter? "In that position we already have Wesley Sneijder and Coutinho [the young Brazilian]," Benitez, said. And would the coach be interested in another Real Madrid player, Karim Benzema, the France striker? "We have Samuel Eto'o and Diego Milito," Benitez said. But Eto'o will be 30 by the end of the season and Milito will turn 32 soon after it closes. Inter are an ageing team. It therefore follows that Moratti, who gives the impression of being on the lookout for bold new signings, will now closely monitor Wayne Rooney's intention to leave Old Trafford.
Inter are one of the few clubs who pay the scale of wage the England striker is said to be seeking. They are also sufficiently ambitious.
What Inter may lack, rightly or wrongly, is cachet in the eyes of a would-be English superstar, like Rooney. While David Beckham, on joining ACMilan for the swansong of his European club career, talked of the "glamour of Serie A" he had grown up with, Beckham is 10 years Rooney's senior so he was a teenager when the Italian league was world football's Hollywood.
By the time Rooney nursed the idea of going professional, Spain's La Liga was acquiring the glitz that Serie A used to monopolise.
And Spain has also become the preferred destination of those few English stars who have left the Premier League in the past decade.
Steve McManaman, then Beckham, then Michael Owen all joined Real for periods. The image of Rooney, the Liverpudlian who likes surrounding himself with friends and family, is often taken as a sign he too would not easily move from England's north-west.
Jose Mourinho, the coach of Real, is a Rooney fan. His reaction was calculated. Mourinho said he thought Rooney "should stay at United", but if they wanted to sell him, they should notify Real.
In short, Mourinho does not want to be seen to be trying to tempt Rooney away, given that Mourinho's own longer-term ambitions may one day include coaching United; nor are Madrid in a hurry to make bids, given that Rooney's market value will drop the longer he stays without renewing a United contract that expires in 2012. The Madrid option seems the strongest of those outside England.
Barcelona, it was reported in Spain yesterday, have rebuffed inquiries from agents representing Rooney. Had AC Milan not invested in Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in August, they might be expected to swoop, but will probably wait until the spring before considering a move.